INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Helio Castroneves will again put his name up for membership into the Brickyard’s most exclusive club on Sunday when the Brazilian goes for a fourth Indianapolis 500 win with last year’s rejection long forgotten.
A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears are the only men to visit Victory Lane at the sprawling speedway four times. With a win at the 99th edition of the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’, the diminutive Brazilian could stand tall alongside the three giants of American motorsport.
It is an ageing club that has not welcomed a new member since Mears claimed his fourth 500 victory in 1991, though it looked ready to add some new blood last year until American Ryan Hunter-Reay powered past Castroneves at the start of the final lap to win a dramatic drag race by less than a car length apart.
In the five 500s since he completed his Brickyard hat-trick in 2009, Castroneves has known only frustration while posting four top-10 finishes, including last year’s second place.
“As soon as I hit the finish line, (it was forgotten),” Castroneves said on Thursday during the Indy 500 Media Day. “We saw what happens and you move on.
“It is the motivation to make it better this year. The last five laps I led, unfortunately that day he had a better speed and it was his day.”
The King of the Speedway, Castroneves notched consecutive victories in 2001 and 2002 then returned to the winner’s circle in 2009 and signaled he will again be among the contenders by qualifying fifth fastest in the middle of Row Two.
But it has been a far from smooth run-up to Sunday’s race for Castroneves who walked away unscathed from a spectacular crash that ended with his car slamming into the wall and flipping.
“I do believe it is going to be more exciting than last year,” said Castroneves. “Last year was extremely exciting and it will be difficult to beat that but instead of two cars I think three or four cars will be battling for the win.”
A 29-time winner on the IndyCar and CART circuits, Castroneves has not been able to add to that this season but has landed on the podium twice with runner-up finishes while his Penske team mates Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power have each celebrated a victory.
Team owner Roger Penske, winner of a record 15 Indy 500s, will field another powerhouse four-car lineup that includes Castroneves, Montoya, Power and Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, who will start from the outside of Row One on Sunday.
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes